Two Stops Make A Right
Of all the shots, the first volley is the hardest one to finish. Players rush through the mid-court volley like their pants are on fire and cool water is just ahead. When they do, of course, what gets extinguished is the point, with an unforced error. What makes it so hard to finish the first volley? For one, it's usually a stressful shot, a ball landing right on our shoe tops. The intuition is that is we run faster, try harder, that won't happen. Wrong. Hitting a ball at the service line is precisely the risk of venturing to net; that nasty placement at your feet is going to happen. And the second reason that we rush is that we've got places to go after the first volley, all the way to net and our appointment with a glorious put-away. We just can't get there quick enough.
To survive the mid-court predicament, two stops are required. The first is a split-step just before your opponent's contact--even if you're not yet at the service line. The split-step gets you stable and on your toes, ready to move left or right, forehand or backhand, or backwards to defend a lob. After that split-step is a reach step, across the body, trying earn a contact point as far in front of you is possible. Don't let that ball get to your feet; reach in front. Now for the hard part: after contact there's a second stop. After a volley, you should be looking at your racquet head, not across the net to see your shot. For a split second, everything should be still: your head is motionless, knees are bent, butt down. When you look up, you shouldn't see the ball on your side of the net. It should just be landing, successfully, on your opponent's side.
Does that mean that it's not possible to watch the ball or control your shot when you're hitting on the run? Of course not. Sometimes we're forced to hit on the run; sometimes we choose to do it to earn higher contact on a floater. But do it with caution, because, for recreational players, running through the first volley almost always means that their focus is in the future, not on the ball. If you can, make your stops.
c Keith Shein